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Monday, December 17, 2012

O Christmas Tree

Martok
with Sue Weaver, Hobby Farms Contributor

Rather than buying from a tree farm, consider cutting a wild Christmas tree that grows on your property. Photo by Sue Weaver (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Sue Weaver
Mom and Dad cut down a wild evergreen tree for Christmas, then we goats get to eat it when the holidays are over.

Uzzi and I admire Mom and Dad’s Christmas tree when we sneak into the house at night to use the computer. After Christmas, we get to eat it! Evergreen trees are a big part of humans’ Christmas traditions. Uzzi and I looked them up online. The University of Illinois Extension’s website “Christmas Trees and More” is a treasure trove of information about Christmas trees! Here are some of the things we learned:

  • Before Christmas trees there were Yule trees. Human ancestors celebrated the winter solstice with many of the things we associate with Christmas, like evergreen trees and boughs, holly, revelry and gift-giving.

  • Craftsmen erected the first decorated Christmas trees in guild halls in northern Germany, Latvia and Estonia. They decked them with yummy things like applesnuts and candies for the children and apprentices to eat. Historians think the first decorated Christmas tree graced the Riga, Latvia, Brotherhood of Blackheads hall in 1510, but the first printed reference to Christmas trees didn’t appear until 1531.

  • People originally lighted Christmas trees with tiny candles. In 1882, Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, invented electric lights for Christmas trees. They were first mass-produced in 1890.

  • During the 1800s, German inventors used dyed goose feathers attached to wire branches to create the first artificial Christmas trees. In 1930, the American Addis Brush Company developed artificial trees using bristles they used to make toilet brushes. Aluminum Christmas trees debuted in Chicago in 1958—Mom remembers them and says they were ugly. Nowadays artificial trees are made from PVC plastic; 80 percent of them sold worldwide are made in China. Americans bought 9.5 million artificial Christmas trees in 2011!

But nothing beats a real tree for aroma and beauty (and your goats can’t eat a fake Christmas tree). Some people, like our Mom and Dad, cut an unshaped wild tree, but most humans choose a shaped farmed tree, either from a Christmas-tree lot or directly from a cut-your-own-tree farm. In 2011, American consumers purchased 84 percent of all real Christmas trees from pre-cut sources and 16 percent cut their own.

There are more than 12,000 Christmas tree growers in the United States with roughly 350 million trees growing on their farms. In 2011, Americans bought 30.5 million real Christmas trees with a market value of $1.07 billion. The average tree cost is $34.87.

If you buy a real tree, get a fresh one. Some trees are cut months in advance. They’re dyed green to make them seem fresher, so be sure you tree hasn’t been dyed if you plan to let your goats eat it (yuck!). Heft the tree a few inches off the ground and drop it on the base of its trunk—that shouldn’t cause a shower of needles. Run a branch through your hand; needles should flex and not fall off.

Or, pick a wild tree. Or use a bough instead of a whole tree.

If you plan to give your Christmas tree to livestock to eat, don’t decorate with hard-to-remove and dangerous-to-eat things, like plastic tinsel. Otherwise, let your animal friends recycle your tree. Yum!

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